Yellowstone National Park — Another bad answer from Answers in Genesis

1280px-Grand_Prismatic_Spring_and_Midway_Geyser_Basin_from_above

This brief article on Yellowstone National Park from Answers in Genesis is exceptionally bad.

https://answersingenesis.org/creation-vacations/yellowstone-national-park/

Answers in Genesis — “The volcano that left the enormous crater at Yellowstone was far greater than anything we observe today. While modern craters measure barely 20 square miles (52 km2), the crater at Yellowstone covers about 1,500 square miles (3885 km2). You can still see the massive volcanic lava and ash beds at Specimen Ridge and other places north of the park.”

Response — The 3885 km2 caldera must refer to the 640,000 year-old Yellowstone Caldera, which produced the Lava Creek Tuff. This was the third of the three major Quaternary calderas formed at Yellowstone. The volcanic and volcaniclastic deposits at Specimen Ridge, however, are related to entirely different set of volcanoes, and have nothing to do with the Yellowstone Caldera eruptions. The rocks at Specimen ridge are part of the Eocene Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup, which was created by a series of stratovolcanoes similar to those in the Cascade Range.

Answers in Genesis — “The fact that molten rock remains hot near the earth’s surface is evidence that Yellowstone’s volcanic activity was recent—fewer than 4,500 years ago, according to the Bible´s timescale. So every one of the park’s 100,000 geysers, hot springs, and mud pots is a testimony to the recent Flood.”

Response — In other articles, Answers in Genesis admits that Yellowstone sits over a hot spot, so there is a very credible explanation for why rocks beneath Yellowstone are still hot even after hundreds of thousands of years. Heat is continually supplied from Earth’s mantle, which explains why magma exists at relatively shallow depths. The presence of heat in no way points to the young-Earth creationist timescale, and there is nothing in these volcanic rocks that points to the young-Earth creationist’s global flood.

Answers in Genesis — “If you look along the western shore of Jackson Lake, you can see the Teton Fault, which marks the boundary between where the mountains rose and the nearby land fell. The evidence indicates that most of the world’s mountain ranges rose very recently because their dazzling heights and ruggedness have not had time to erode away.”

Response — Here, Answers in Genesis seems to be assuming that Earth is a rather static world, rather than dynamic planet. If the Grand Tetons had been sitting there static for tens of millions of years, then the mountain range would now be leveled down to low hills at best. But if the Grand Tetons and other mountain ranges are actively rising (and there is abundant evidence that this is still the case) then there is no reason why they would not be majestic and rugged mountain ranges at present.

Answers in Genesis — “The fact that magma is still hot enough to drive the geysers indicates that the magma moved to this chamber very recently (at the end of the Flood, not millions of years ago).”

Response — Once again, Answers in Genesis is ignoring how Earth works. Heat from Earth’s mantle is continually supplied beneath Yellowstone, keeping the rocks hot enough to be partially molten. There is no reason to suppose that the magma moved into this chamber only 4500 years ago.

Answers in Genesis — “Notice that the stumps are stripped bare, without any signs of roots or soil.”

Response — The fact that petrified tree stumps are “stripped bare” is evidence that they were moved in debris flows (lahars), rather than being petrified in the place where they grew. There is abundant sedimentological evidence that these petrified trees are in localized debris flows. There are also tree stumps that do have roots, and some may be in their original positions.

Answers in Genesis — “If the Flood stripped the earth’s forests and then the trees floated on the ocean and jostled about, rubbing together before sinking, it could more easily cause many layers of stumps.”

Response — The evidence in the rocks is that these fossil forests were buried in local debris flows: gravelly muds with the consistency of liquid concrete that solidified to form conglomerates. The rocks containing these trees are all local volcanic rocks, derived from volcanoes which were a few tens of kilometers away at the most. If the trees were floating on an ocean, how did they get mixed in with the debris flows? Additionally, if the trees were floating on an ocean, why did they all deposit in one layer on top of another in the same place, rather than some being deposited in northwestern Wyoming, and some in central Nebraska, some in northern Idaho, and so forth? A global flood would have scattered the trees, not deposited them in layers one on top of another.

Answers in Genesis — “Scientists observed something similar to this happening at Spirit Lake after Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.”

Response — Young-Earth creationists love to point to Mt. St. Helens. Yes, the log deposits of Spirit lake at Mt. St. Helens can tell us some things about how petrified forests might be preserved in volcanic deposits, but that is about all they can tell us. The trees at Spirit Lake, however, will end up being preserved in a lake deposit, not in a debris flow deposit, and almost all of the Yellowstone petrified forests are found in coarse conglomerates, not in fine-grained lake deposits.

Answers in Genesis — [in a section on Grand Prismatic Spring] “What makes the dazzling colors at the park’s largest hot spring?”

Response — The picture in this section of the article is not Grand Prismatic Spring.

Answers in Genesis — [in a section on Old Faithful Geyser] “The fact that magma is still hot enough to drive the geysers indicates that the magma moved to this chamber very recently (at the end of the Flood, not millions of years ago)”

Response — The picture in this section of the article is not Old Faithful Geyser. I don’t think the author of this article is all that familiar with Yellowstone National Park. In addition, geologists do not say that the magma beneath Yellowstone National Park was intruded into Earth’s crust millions of years ago, as the most recent caldera eruption has been dated at 640,000 years, and the most recent large lava flow at Yellowstone (the Pitchstone Plateau flow) occurred about 75,000 years ago.

Answers in Genesis — “Look at those pretty colors in the pool, Daddy. But what´s that smoke? Is it hot?”
“Yes, honey. It´s very hot. In fact, springs like this are hot because super-hot, molten rocks, called magma, rose from deep in the earth during Noah´s Flood—just a few thousand years ago. The heat hasn´t had time to cool off.”

Response — Answers in Genesis managed to squeeze a lot of bad science in such a short article. For Daddy to give his child the Answers in Genesis explanation for the features in Yellowstone National Park could eventually lead to shipwrecking that child’s faith. If this child grows up and studies geology, he or she will discover that almost everything Answers in Genesis taught them about the Earth is wrong. If this bad science is coupled with the false dichotomy of “If young-Earth creationism isn’t true, then the Bible isn’t true and Jesus didn’t die for your sins,” they could easily throw out their Christianity along with their young-Earth guidebook to Yellowstone National Park.

My hope instead is that this child will grow up with foundations for their faith that are built on God’s Word, but not on the bad science of young-Earth creationism.

Grace and Peace

Copyright 2018, Kevin Nelstead, The GeoChristian


Notes:

I have barely touched the surface on what I could write about why Yellowstone National Park and young-Earth creationism do not go together. Of course, the Bible is not about Yellowstone National Park.

The photograph of the real Grand Prismatic Spring at the top of this article is from Wikipedia (author: Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons)

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

6books

The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Three Young-Earth Students

The web site for the young-Earth documentary Is Genesis History? has posted a video following three young-Earth creationist (YEC) students from Wheaton College as they tour the Ark Encounter replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky (see How did Theistic Evolution Bring 3 Wheaton College Students to the Ark?). These students had formed a YEC group on the Wheaton campus, and were concerned about the widespread teaching of old-Earth creationism and theistic evolution by professors at the college.

WheatonArkEncounter

I was once very much like these three students touring the Ark Encounter. For my first couple years as a geology undergraduate student at Montana State University, I fervently (though mostly privately) held to young-Earth creationism, and was even a student member of the Creation Research Society. I was eager to get my Master’s degree in geology so that I could be a full member of the CRS. I would read the CRS Quarterly, which back then was the premier YEC scientific journal, though at times I would roll my eyes at some of the things that were printed in its pages. But I was confident that, with time, the many problems with YEC geology would be solved, and even dreamed that I would be the one to solve them.

The more I learned about geology, however, the more I became aware of the serious deficiencies of YEC flood geology and age-of-the-Earth arguments. I was encouraged, however, that there were several articles in the CRSQ which pointed out some of the same “problems to be solved” that I saw. Little did I know that the author of these articles, Glenn Morton, would soon have a deep crisis of faith because of what he perceived to be serious flaws in YEC geological science. Glenn did go through some dark years in his faith after this, and was on the verge of becoming an atheist, but eventually did not fall away from the faith. Many others in his shoes have not been so fortunate.

I also experienced the grace of God, and did not question my faith as I increasingly saw problems with YEC geology. My faith was getting deeper roots in things like the resurrection of Christ. I am thankful that in about my Junior year of college, I came across several books by Christian authors, such as Francis Schaeffer and Pattle Pun, that questioned the YEC paradigm and provided alternative interpretations of Genesis. These authors held to biblical inerrancy, and did not question YEC just for scientific reasons, but for biblical and theological reasons.

I’m sure these three students love Jesus, and they would not be at Wheaton if they were not brilliant. This article from Is Genesis History? tells of a cordial meeting of the young-Earth students with old-Earth professors, and mentions that “Most of the students did not have the critical knowledge to dig deep into the subjects.” This certainly cuts both ways. In the eyes of Is Genesis History? these students didn’t know what questions to ask their old-Earth professors. Unfortunately, it seems these students may not know what critical questions to ask of young-Earth creationism either.

Here are some issues brought up in the video that the students need to explore:

  • What is the genre of Genesis 1? In the writings of Steven Boyd, interviewed in Is Genesis History? the options are often given as “poetry” and “historical narrative.” Those are not the only options. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the sense that Psalms, Proverbs, or much of the Prophets are poetry, but it is also not written like standard Hebrew historical narrative passages either. If we get the genre of a passage wrong–and “historical narrative” is probably not correct–then our interpretation of a passage will likely be wrong as well.
  • The movie shows horse kinds, giraffe kinds, and mentions dinosaur kinds (which was probably a slip even by YEC definitions of kinds). What does Genesis 1 mean by “kind?” What does it mean for organisms to reproduce “after their kinds?” Does any of what Genesis says about kinds place a limit on variation over time within populations of organisms?
  • One of the students mentioned death before the fall. Does the Bible teach that animals were created to be mortal? Does it teach that animal death is the result of Adam’s sin. The answer to these questions is that the Bible is silent on these topics.
  • What is meant by “good” in Genesis 1? Does it mean perfect in every way, as YECs claim? Or does it have another meaning, such as fulfilling God’s good purposes?

I really liked these students. They were smart, articulate, and love Jesus. My hope and prayer is that these three students would remain strong in their faith, whether they remain as YECs, or someday adopt a different interpretation of Genesis. I do appreciate their attitude towards their old-Earth professors and fellow students, recognizing that the age of the Earth is not a salvation issue. My concern is that YEC materials such as Is Genesis History? contain a great amount of really bad science that eventually backfires and destroys the faith of many. Will these three students be able to stand firm in their faith in Christ once they realize that Mt. St. Helens is not a good model for most of what we see in the rock record, that the layers of the Grand Canyon and other places contain many features that cannot be explained by catastrophism, or that the model of post-flood hyper-evolution presented at Ark Encounter cannot explain the present diversity and distribution of life on Earth?

Once again, bad science (based on debatable interpretations of the Bible) is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.

Grace and Peace


The Facebook discussion for this post is at

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.phpstory_fbid=1028121724023888&id=224603031042432

Short Answer — Mt St Helens and young-Earth creationism

Here is my standard short answer to the young-Earth creationist claim that the deposits formed by the 1980s eruptions of Mt St Helens demonstrate that Noah’s flood could be responsible for the sedimentary rock record.


The deposits of Mt St Helens (MSH) demonstrate that volcanoes can do a lot of geologic work in a short amount of time. This comes as a surprise to no one. Any good volcanologist or sedimentologist will be able to recognize volcaniclastic rocks in the rock record. In fact these types of deposits are quite common in the rock record, and are thousands of meters thick in places. For instance, there are the deeply-eroded remains of a large Cretaceous stratovolcano (named the Sliderock Volcano) not too far from where I live in south-central Montana. This is recognized as a stratovolcano by having the remains of a magma chamber in the center, and then volcaniclastic rocks dipping away from that central vent area in all directions. The mountain was probably the size of the larger Cascade Range volcanoes, such as Shasta or Rainier. The YEC claim that this entire complex volcano formed and eroded in a few weeks towards the end of the flood is mind-boggling.

Most of the sedimentary rocks of the geologic record are actually quite unlike the volcaniclastic rocks of MSH.

  • Most sandstones and conglomerates are nothing like the deposits of MSH.
  • No shales are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No limestones are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No evaporites are like the deposits of MSH.

Conclusion: most of the rock record was formed in settings that were not at all like MSH.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I recognize that the flood account in Genesis says nothing about stratovolcanoes in Washington (MSH, part of the research topic for my M.S. in geology) or Montana (the Sliderock Volcano I referred to), so I do not have to try to squeeze such events into Scripture. The truthfulness of the Bible does not depend on YEC flood geology being correct.

Grace and Peace.

Six theological reasons why Christians do not have to embrace six-day young-Earth creationism

IGHA vocal set of Christians believes that the book of Genesis requires the age of the universe and Earth to be something like 6000 years. This belief is being reinforced by the release last year (2017) of the documentary Is Genesis History?, which was narrated by Del Tackett, and produced by Thomas Purifoy. The film is very well-made, and will undoubtedly be shown in numerous churches, youth groups, Christian schools, and home schools for years to come.

Thomas Purifoy recently published an article entitled Six Reasons Reformed Christians Should Embrace Six-Day Creation at Challies.com, the influential website of Reformed blogger Tim Challies. Purifoy concludes his article by saying that “6-day creation is the only longterm viable option for Reformed theology.” I also write from within the Reformed, and larger Reformation, community. There are many inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative, highly-qualified, Reformed scholars and pastors who disagree with Purifoy’s conclusion about young-Earth creationism being the only viable option for our theological community. I have drawn from the work of many of these pastors and scholars over the past four decades, and hope in this essay to show that one can be true to both the Word of God and to Reformation theology, and come to the conclusion that Earth may indeed be far older than 6000 years.

In his article, Thomas Purifoy gives six theological reasons for embracing young-Earth creationism. Four of the following section headings are identical in wording to those used by Purifoy in his article; two of the headings have been slightly modified. It should not be surprising that I, as an old-Earth Christian with deep roots in the Reformation, have almost identical statements as Thomas Purifoy regarding our theology of creation. This is because the age of the universe is a secondary matter, and Reformed young-Earth creationists and I have much more in common in regards to our theology than those points that divide us.

1. God’s goodness is indeed reflected in both the original and present creation

Thomas Purifoy had his heading worded a little differently for his first point in his Challies.com article – “God’s Goodness Must Be Reflected in the Original Creation.” I could have used the same wording, but I decided to expand the concept a bit.

In Genesis 1, God does indeed pronounce his creation to be “good,” and even “very good.” There is a bit of discussion among commentators about what exactly is meant by “good” in the opening passage of Genesis (1:1-2:3). Is this goodness the same as perfection, or is it a goodness of purpose? Young-Earth creationists often portray this goodness as meaning perfect in every way, without anything that we would consider to be a flaw. The pre-sin world is regularly depicted as being a gentle world, overflowing with abundance, and where the overall system is mature and complete, with no hint of anything in the least bit deadly or dangerous. The entire Earth is described in this young-Earth scenario as if the entire world were the garden of Eden. This perspective minimizes the fact that Genesis 2 portrays Eden as a limited sanctuary in Mesopotamia, with the world outside of the garden as a wild place in need of being subdued, or brought under the dominion of the newly-appointed viceregents over creation, Adam and Eve. This wildness implies lions and tigers and bears, not just bunnies and cuddly puppies (or domesticated, friendly Tyrannosaurus rexes). Perhaps the Earth of Genesis 1 wasn’t quite as tame as the young-Earth advocates believe it was. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, the creation was good, but not necessarily tame or safe.

There is a clue in Genesis 2 that helps us narrow down the meaning of the goodness spoken of in Genesis 1. In 2:18 we are told that there was something “not good” in the creation: that the man was alone. This certainly indicates that the goodness in Genesis 1 is not the same as moral goodness; it was not immoral or evil that Adam was alone. It may also mean that the goodness referred to is not the same as perfection. In other words, something can be good in God’s eyes even if it is not yet perfect. It seems then, that the goodness referred to in Genesis 1 is a goodness of purpose, not a moral goodness—though God is morally good—nor a goodness of perfection. God saw that the creation was very good for the plans he had in mind.

That this goodness in Genesis 1 means something other than what young-Earth creationists claim is amplified by what the rest of the Bible teaches about the goodness of creation. We see in Psalm 19:1-6 that the heavens still declare the glory of God. In Acts 17:17, God’s present goodness in creation is revealed in his providential provision of rain and crops. In Romans 1:19-20 the creation still fulfills one of its purposes in that it declares God’s attributes, so that people are without excuse when they deny him. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:4, declares this ongoing goodness of creation even more explicitly: “For everything created by God is good.” None of these biblical claims would hold true if the creation didn’t still retain a significant amount of its goodness even after Adam’s fall into sin. If our world in its present state can be described by God as being good, then there is nothing to stop God from considering the pre-Adam world as being good and ready for his redemptive plan as well, even over a period of many millions of years.

2. Adam’s sin resulted in human spiritual and physical death

In the Challies.com article, this was stated as “Adam’s Sin Resulted in Universal Corruption and Death,” which goes well beyond what the Bible itself says about death in the natural world.

As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin which brought spiritual and physical death to the human race. The Bible nowhere states, however, that animal death is the result of human sin. The relevant passages (in Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12-17, Romans 8:19-22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21-28;35-57) all make a connection between Adam’s sin and human death, but none of these passages tie animal death to Adam’s sin.

Because of this, we cannot say with theological certainty, as Purifoy does in his article, that the fossils in Earth’s crust are a testimony to God’s judgment on human sin. The fossil record is simply not a topic the Scriptures address. The Bible is silent on the topic of animal death before the fall, and does not even say that animals were created to be immortal. Instead we see in the Scriptures that carnivorous activity is a normal part of God’s good creation. In Job 38:39-41 and Psalm 104:21-22 (which is a re-telling of Genesis 1 in poetic form), God is the one who provides food for the predators, with no hint that this is evil or something less than good. We may cringe a bit when we see a cheetah take down a gazelle in a documentary, but there is no sign in the Bible that either God or the ancient Hebrews viewed predator-prey relationships as evil or as the consequence of Adam’s sin.

The “universal corruption and death” dogma is often stated as one of the prime biblical arguments for a young Earth, and yet this doctrine is neither “expressly set down in Scripture” nor may it be “by good and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession 1.6, slight grammatical rewording). Despite this, young-Earth creationists often hold this “no animal death before the fall” teaching forth as a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy.

3. The pattern of creation/fall/redemption culminates in the new creation

My wording of this third point is identical to how it was worded in Purifoy’s article.

The outworking of salvation history in the young-Earth perspective is:

creation/fall/redemption/consummation.

The outworking of salvation history in the old-Earth perspective is:

creation/fall/redemption/consummation.

The content and truthfulness of the gospel does not depend in any way on the age of the Earth. In his article, Purifoy suggests that the miracles of Jesus, and the future redemption of the creation, point both back to the original creation and forward to the upcoming new creation. There is no problem with this in itself. But then he states, “For the bookends of creation to match, they must be mirrors of each other. This is only possible with 6-day creation.” There are many connections between Genesis 1-2 and the final chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, but I am not sure that Purifoy’s “mirroring” can be supported from Scripture. There are not only many parallels between Genesis and Revelation, but a number of contrasts as well. In Genesis, the world is immature; in Revelation, the world is mature. In Genesis, the world is pregnant with possibilities; in Revelation those possibilities have come to be. In Genesis, the couple is naked; in Revelation the multitude is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Genesis has a garden; Revelation a city. It is not necessary for the New Jerusalem to be a mirror of the Garden of Eden (though there are important parallels), so there is no need to have matching bookends, and the declaration of “only possible with 6-day creation” falls apart.

4. Scripture must be used to interpret scripture

Again, my wording of this point is the same to how it is worded in Purifoy’s article. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” (1.9).

The rule of letting Scripture interpret Scripture does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Earth is only 6000 years old. Even a straightforward comparison of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 should be enough to tell us that at least one of these texts is meant to be taken as something less than a completely literal passage. This should lead us to a further investigation of genre, which is a topic that is often oversimplified in young-Earth literature to “if it isn’t poetry, it must be historical narrative.” If we get the genre of a passage incorrect, then it is likely we will get the interpretation of the passage at least partly incorrect. Many scholars do not believe the genre is “historical narrative,” so it is quite possible that the young-Earth interpretation is incorrect as well.

I could write about letting Scripture interpret Scripture in regards to Genesis 1, but will focus instead on the flood account of Genesis 6-9. One of the reasons I believe Noah’s flood may have been local rather than global in extent is by using Scripture to interpret Scripture. In almost all cases where universal language is used in the Old Testament, the meaning is something other than the superficial, literalistic sense. In other words, “all the earth” usually means something less than “all the earth” in the Bible. To give just one example, we are told in 1 Kings 18:10 that, “As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord [Ahab] has not sent to seek you [Elijah].” No commentator will tell you that this passage must be taken literally to mean that Ahab sent people to all nations from the Aborigines to the Zulus to find Elijah. The literal words say “no nation or kingdom” without any sort of qualifier, but just about any reader, ancient or modern, will read this universal statement as meaning “no nation or kingdom in this area” rather than in the entire Earth. If non-universal language is the norm in the Old Testament—and it is—then we should be at least open to considering this to be the case in Genesis 6-9 as well.

5. Essential doctrines are related to history

Once again, as an old-Earth Christian, my wording of this header is the same as in the young-Earth article.

In the Bible, God often reveals himself not by giving us a list of doctrinal points, but by acting and speaking in history. In fact, Christianity is embedded in history in a way that perhaps no other major religion is. Creation and fall happened in real history. God’s covenant with Abraham, his giving of the law through Moses, and the kingship of David, are presented as real historical events, and are all part of salvation history. Most significantly, the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ all happened in history. If these events did not really happen, then Christianity is not true. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Once again, as an old-Earth Christian, I believe that Genesis is history. Many Christian doctrines are tied to the historical events of Genesis. Not a single one of these doctrines, however, depends on Earth being 6000 years old. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a historical statement for us as Christians whether this happened in roughly 4000 B.C., or 13.8 billion years ago. The alphabet portion of the New England Primer began with “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” This statement holds true whether Earth is 6000 years old or 4.6 billion years old.

6. Presuppositional thinking helps us understand the discipline of science

One final time, I have left the wording of this point intact from the article by the producer of Is Genesis History?

Presuppositional apologetics is based on the recognition that no one enters into an investigation with an empty mind, and that we all have prejudices that make us open to certain arguments, and closed to others. In other words, there are no neutral positions on any topic. As Christians, we carry certain assumptions about the nature of God’s Word and God’s world into investigations. We don’t take this approach because we have “blind faith,” but because the Holy Spirit has worked those convictions into our hearts and minds, and because we recognize that this approach seems reasonable in light of what we know about the world around us.

My basic presupposition as I approach the study of the relationship between the Bible and science is that all truth is God’s truth, whether it be truth revealed in God’s Word, or truth revealed in God’s world. If there seems to be a conflict between these two revelations, then either we do not correctly understand God’s Word, or we do not correctly understand God’s world (or maybe a bit of both). In the end, if we come to a point of complete understanding, there will be no conflict.

Sometimes young-Earth scholars express their presuppositional approach with a question such as, “Will you believe the infallible words of the Bible, or the fallible words of scientists?” This question assumes that there are some truths that are more true than other truths (as if one true thing can be truer than another true thing). It also makes the assumption that the young-Earth interpretation itself is infallible, when in reality our interpretations can be wrong. Fallible people misread God’s infallible Word, and fallible people misread God’s good creation. It is one thing to have a presupposition that the God of the universe has revealed himself in his inerrant Word; it is a mistake to start with the presupposition that one’s own interpretation, such as the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1, is also inerrant.

In closing

In his closing section, Thomas Purifoy quotes D. Martin Lloyd-Jones: “I have no gospel unless Genesis is history.” I can say, “Amen” to that.

A few years ago, I posted my “Creation Creed” here at GeoChristian.com:

As an old-Earth Christian,

I believe in a real creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible,

And in a real Adam,

Who lived in a real garden,

And who committed a real first sin.

I believe that this sin had consequences:

spiritual and physical death for all of humanity.

I believe in Jesus Christ as our only savior,

And as the ruler and redeemer of all creation.

This creed is rooted in the historical events of Genesis.

I could say much more, of course, but have already written a far longer article than what I had hoped. This essay is not a comprehensive defense of any given old-Earth interpretation. Reformed Christians (as well as Christians from other traditions) who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture fall on both sides of the young-Earth/old-Earth debate. I hope that I have demonstrated that there are valid answers to the theological concerns that my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ have about the consequences of accepting an ancient creation.

Grace and Peace


Notes:

I have a great amount of respect for both Del Tackett (who also narrated The Truth Project series) and Thomas Purifoy. Thomas did a tremendous amount of research in preparation for producing Is Genesis History? He read weighty books from both sides of the debate (but it seems only got personal input from the young-Earth side; I could be wrong) I have had some correspondence with Thomas (Facebook messenger), and he has always been gracious and articulate. I just think he is wrong, and that young-Earth creationism is neither biblically necessary nor scientifically credible.

I am a member of a church in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a theologically-conservative Reformed denomination that affirms biblical inerrancy (Del Tackett, the narrator of Is Genesis History?, is an elder within the PCA). The PCA as a denomination takes no official stand on the age of the Earth, and has produced an excellent document outlining both young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations of Genesis that are acceptable within the denomination. This document is the Report of the Creation Study Committee. I highly recommend this report!

It is refreshing that Thomas Purifoy acknowledges, “I realize that intelligent and godly Reformed Christians hold to [old-Earth] models of Earth history.” In the past, the list of old-Earth Reformed scholars and pastors included B.B. Warfield, Charles Spurgeon, and Francis Schaeffer. In the present, this list includes Justin Taylor, Michael Horton, and John Piper.

I have written a number of (mostly) short articles about Biblical topics regarding creation in my GeoScriptures series (a series I hope to add to). I will highlight a few of these articles:

I have written a number of articles about the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood on my blog as well. Take a look at the Best of the GeoChristian page. Here are a few highlights:

The ESV Study Bible is written from a Reformed perspective, and I have written a four-part series about the study notes. The study notes on Genesis, creation, and the flood include both young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. One of the links I share most often with my young-Earth friends is the one about dinosaurs (actually the lack thereof) in the book of Job.

Another excellent article is PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth, written by eight geologists who are members of churches in the Reformed and theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The geological evidence presented by young-Earth creationists, such as in Is Genesis History? has failed to convince most Christian geologists, even those who hold to a high view of Scripture. One would think that if the arguments are even slightly compelling, that Christian geologists would jump in large numbers to the young-Earth side. They don’t.

Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

The Facebook discussion for this article is here.

Copyright © 2018, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

An old-Earth Christian film review of Genesis: Paradise Lost

genesisOn two nights this past week (Nov 13 and 16, 2017), the young-Earth creationist (YEC) documentary Genesis: Paradise Lost was shown in select movie theaters across America. I spent $15 (the most I have ever spent for a movie) and sat in the upper corner of the theater where there was a little light that enabled me to scribble some notes. This movie included speakers from Answers in Genesis as well as other institutions, and will undoubtedly be a fixture in the YEC segment of Evangelical Christianity for quite a while.

The purpose of the film is to promote the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11, as stated on the movie’s web site:

Cutting-edge cinematography meets proven science and biblical accuracy to deliver GENESIS: PARADISE LOST, bringing the first book of the Bible to life in both 2D and 3D formats on the big screen. Stunning visual effects and field research invite audiences to explore the much-studied and debated opening chapters of the Bible. This highly-anticipated movie event will show in cinemas nationwide on Monday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m. local time.

GENESIS: PARADISE LOST will entertain and educate as an event for the whole family. The digital animation is interwoven with insightful commentary from accredited scientists and educators such as Dr. Charles Jackson and Dr. Georgia Purdom, and popular speakers such as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. Cultural apologist Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.’s deep booming voice serves as Genesis’ “unseen narrator” whose vocal presence gives the visual images deeper meaning and life.

Summary

Genesis: Paradise Lost began with brief statements from various YEC scholars, such as:

  • “Science has been hijacked.”
  • “You either trust God, or trust man.”
  • “There are only two possibilities.”
  • “The big bang, millions of years, and evolution are all fairy tales.”
  • “If you can’t believe Genesis 1-11, then what part of the Bible can you trust?”

The bulk of the documentary alternated between narration of portions of Genesis 1-3 and short statements by various YEC scientists, Bible scholars, and teachers. The narration (slow and deep) was accompanied by computer animation of the various creative acts of God, such as the creation of light, the separation of land and water, the separation of waters above from waters below, the emergence of plants and animals, and the creation of Adam and Eve.

The style of the speakers was what I would call “flash bang grenade.” One speaker would say something, then another would say something related, and then another. For the most part, these were sound bites that those who are already YECs would agree with, rather than a presentation of any sort of sustained biblical or scientific argument. The segments flowed from one part of Genesis 1-3 to another, but the arguments still seemed to be somewhat disconnected. There was nothing in these sound-bite arguments that convinced me, as an old-Earth Christian, that the Bible requires a young Earth, or that science points to a young Earth.

The movie ended with a presentation of the gospel: The bad news of sin, and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Some Strong Points

YEC documentaries have come a long way from the days of Dr. Dino videos. The animations of the events of creation were all well done.

There were viewpoints expressed by the speakers that I agreed with. For example, I agree that naturalism is insufficient to explain the origin of the universe, and probably the origin of life as well.

I rejoice to hear the gospel presented, even when it is presented in a context that I believe is highly problematic (Philippians 1:18). The bad news is that humans are sinful and in rebellion against God. Because of Adam’s sin, and because of our own sin, we live in a world of misery and death rather than flourishing and life. God’s solution is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, that those who put their faith in him can be restored to what God intended for humanity back in the Garden of Eden. I agree with all of this, and none of it depends on Earth being only 6,000 years old.

Biblical and Scientific Problems

Though there were a few things in the movie I agreed with, I found many more areas of disagreement. Here are a few, starting with some Biblical problems with the movie, and then moving on to scientific difficulties:

It was dogmatically stated that Genesis 1 has the genre of historical narrative, and that the text must therefore be read “literally.” Many inerrancy-affirming, Evangelical Old Testament scholars would disagree that the genre of Genesis 1 is “historical narrative.” The problem is that many YEC scholars oversimplify the issue by presenting the only genre options as historical narrative or poetry, when in fact there are a number of genres in the Old Testament. Obviously, Genesis 1 is not poetry in the same sense that Psalms or Proverbs are poetry. But when reading Genesis 1, even in English, it is clear that Genesis 1 has patterns that are not present in standard Hebrew historical narrative passages, such as in most of the rest of Genesis, or the historical portions of Exodus through 2 Chronicles. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins calls the genre of Genesis 1:1-2:4 “exalted prose narrative,” indicating that there is something much higher going on in this section than in more ordinary narrative passages. The vocabulary is more exalted, there are analogies, and the structure of the opening passage of Genesis is perhaps unique in ancient Hebrew literature. If interpreters don’t get the genre of the passage correct—and YECs may indeed be getting it wrong—then it is likely that the final interpretation will also be wrong.

It was also stated that Jesus believed that Genesis is real history, with the implication that Jesus was endorsing the young-Earth interpretation. I agree that Jesus affirmed the historicity of Adam, and of Noah and the flood. As an old-Earth Christian, I therefore also believe in a real Adam and Eve in a real garden, committing a real sin, and in a real Noah who rode out a real flood in a real boat with real animals. None of this requires, however, a young Earth or a global flood.

The movie did not present the Garden of Eden as it is described in the Bible. Genesis 2 describes the garden as being at a specific location on Earth, identified as being in the Ancient Near East by the four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. Genesis never describes the entire Earth as being the Garden of Eden. Instead, the garden seems to be a protected place (with Adam and Eve having a role in its protection), with the rest of the Earth being a wild place in need of subduing. Nevertheless, the film stated that the entire planet was lush from pole to pole; a paradise in its golden age in which animals could grow to enormous sizes. But this is not what the Bible says.

The movie stated that there are immense amounts of evidence for humans and dinosaurs living together. The speaker mentioned dinosaur-like petroglyphs, and references to dragons in the historical records of many cultures. In reality, I believe there is no convincing evidence that humans and dinosaurs ever lived together. YECs commonly point to the creatures Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40-41 as proof that dinosaurs lived back in the second millennium B.C. Much more sober Bible commentators have better, more natural explanations for the identity of these creatures. A brief explanation of the identity of Behemoth and Leviathan can be found in the notes of the ESV Study Bible.

The presentation on radiometric dating wasn’t even all that consistent with the largest YEC research project on the topic, which was the RATE study. The film listed four assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to work: 1) known initial concentrations of the parent and 2) daughter nuclides, 3) a constant decay rate, and 4) a closed system. So far so good. The RATE study concluded that, in most cases, assumptions 1, 2, and 4 can indeed be demonstrated, which was not mentioned in the movie. The RATE scientists, therefore, focused on questioning assumption #3, the decay rate. The documentary presented lutetium-176 (I think that was the nuclide) as an example of a radioactive nuclide for which the decay rate can be changed dramatically in a laboratory. What they didn’t tell you is that lutetium-176 has to be completely ionized in a plasma at a temperature of millions of degrees for this to happen. This is hardly applicable to the conditions on Earth during a flood or at any other time. The speakers in the film also didn’t mention that accelerating radioactive decay millions of times faster would release enough heat to boil Earth’s oceans and melt part of Earth’s crust as well.

It was also stated that the geologic column (Precambrian—Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—etc.) is the product of circular reasoning. This also is a common YEC argument: that rocks are dated by fossils, but that fossils are dated by rocks. This is a faulty argument, and confuses inductive reasoning with circular reasoning. The concept of the geologic column, as the better YECs acknowledge, reflects a real order that is observed in nature. Rock layers, in undisturbed areas, always occur in the order Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—Devonian…, not in some mixed-up order like Triassic—Ordovician—Jurassic—Silurian. Always. The geologic column is a product of inductive, not circular, reasoning.

I picked just six out of a couple dozen topics I could have chosen for critique. Note that I have spent more time on the Biblical problems with the movie than with the scientific problems. I believe that young-Earth creationism is not only faulty in terms of science, but a stretch in some ways of the text of Genesis.

Conclusion

The people involved in making Genesis: Paradise Lost, whether the producers and backers, or those who spoke in the film, are sincere Christians with a love for God’s Word, and a desire to see people come to faith in Christ. I commend them for their love and zeal.

I am convinced, however that the young-Earth interpretation is an over-reading of the text of Genesis, which actually forces many things into the Bible that are not there. There are a number of reasons to suspect that the intention of Moses was not to give us a geology lesson on the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. In any case, Genesis says nothing about the origin of the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks of Earth crust; volcanoes, canyons, glaciers, and many other geological wonders of God’s creation.

Furthermore, the scientific arguments presented in the movie, on topics such as radiometric dating, deposition of sediments, plate tectonics, comets, planetary surfaces, fossils, or fossilized poop, are just about all unsupportable. Most of these features cannot be explained in the young-Earth framework. For example, it was stated that it would impossible for things like worms or feces to be preserved in the fossil record by the slow deposition of sediments. I actually see no reason why an occasional worm or turd could not be preserved in certain depositional environments, but cannot imagine how worms and piles of excrement could survive being suspended in a watery slew of abrasive sediments in a catastrophic flood and then be deposited in just the right part of the geologic column (dinosaur poop in the Mesozoic; elephant poop in the Cenozoic) without being obliterated. Very few Christian geologists are convinced by YEC arguments, either for the age of the Earth, or the origin of the rocks of Earth’s crust.

I believe that the movie presents bad science based on a questionable interpretation of Genesis. Bad science, no matter how well-intended, is bad apologetics, and bad apologetics drives people away from Christianity.

Genesis: Paradise Lost is just part one of a two-part series. Part one focused on Genesis 1-3, so I assume part two will focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.

Grace and Peace

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Notes:

None of the quotes should be taken as direct quotes, as I was scribbling notes in a rather dim setting.

I haven’t written a review yet for the other 2017 YEC documentary, which was Is Genesis History? I would say that Is Genesis History? makes a much stronger case for young-Earth creationism, as it presents sustained arguments rather than a string of sound bites. Not that I was convinced by either the Biblical or the scientific arguments in Is Genesis History? either.

 

Review of Earth Science textbook in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

earthscienceThere have been a number of positive reviews of my Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, published by Novare Science and Math. One of the most comprehensive reviews is in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 111-113). The review was written by a middle school science teacher, who like me, had been forced to use secular textbooks in a Christian school because of the lack of credible options. Here are some highlights:

“The text is very readable, and it includes appropriate graphics to illustrate concepts and provide examples. Nelstead’s warm voice present in the text suggests a caring teacher behind the writing rather than the cold prose typical in many science textbooks.”

“Nelstead is clear throughout the text that he loves scripture and holds the perspective that the Bible reveals God as the caring, sovereign Creator. He emphasizes the perspective in this text as one that accepts “the strong evidence for an old universe” (p. xvi). However, Nelstead also encourages Christian educators to put the issues of the age-of-the-Earth debate behind them, stating, “Since Scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t be” (p. xvi). I recognize that not all Christian educators will agree with this perspective. However, many Christian educators teach with secular texts that embody a very different worldview than that of the teacher. The fact that Nelstead is upfront about his beliefs and how they influence the writing of the book is encouraging, and a model that Christian educators might follow.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, and I believe Christians teaching science will find it a valuable resource. It may prove to be an excellent textbook choice for an earth science course for students in grades 7–9, and I would recommend that science teachers in Christian schools examine it for themselves for possible adoption. Christians involved in teaching science at other grade levels or in different types of schools would also benefit from this text as a resource to keep on the shelf. I believe that anyone interested in a thoughtful elaboration of Earth science that holds a biblical perspective as integral to that study would benefit from reading this book.”

Novare’s Earth Science is the textbook some Christian educators have been waiting for for decades. Buy it directly from Novare rather than from Amazon, which is over-priced.